The developers of RainCity, Cotton Game, had previously only dipped their toes into Xbox waters with Mr Pumpkin Adventure. 2021 seems to be changing that. They’ve trawled their inventory for Mr Pumpkin 2: Kowloon Walled City, and now we’re getting one of their more modern releases, RainCity. Keep ‘em coming.
Cotton Game’s games are a snug fit for the Xbox, as they’re point-and-click adventures that are simple and console-friendly. They achieve a mood that you can’t find elsewhere. Every scene in their games feels like you’re playing on a sketchbook, with ink blotter pages and wonderful watercolour art that’s so effective you could rip it off the screen and put it in a frame. But the kids’ book characters tend to have dour, adult problems, as everyone is just about getting by. Poverty, oppression and disease are common. And where other games will position you as the hero, in the games of Cotton Games, you’re a passerby. People barely notice you as you wander into their rooms, taking their stuff for future puzzles. Their lives are too full to bother with you.
Perhaps it has something to do with Cotton Game being a Chinese studio, or maybe it’s just the personalities of the devs oozing out, but their games push against the point-and-click norm, and we love them for it. And while RainCity isn’t prime Cotton Game, it’s still worth your time.
RainCity starts with the main character, ‘Cat’, arriving in the perpetually raining city. They’re here to see their sister, a journalist, who was last seen holed up in the local hostel. But she’s clearly gone, and no-one has much of an idea where. A camera lies in her room with photos of a few of the city’s core characters, and it’s down to you to investigate.
As you wander the first rooms of RainCity, it’s abundantly clear that it’s a pretty game. Not in a flashy manner, but in a subtly beautiful way. As with previous Cotton Game titles, nothing feels digital: everything feels hand-painted onto thick cartridge paper. Every scene is delightful, particularly when Cat emerges onto the roofs of the city. The audio gets the memo too, as it also comes across as analogue. Rain pitter-patters onto surfaces, and the soundtrack follows a similar percussive pattern.
The controls are simple, as you have direct control over Cat and move them close to areas-of-interest, where button prompts appear. You get to pick up items, but you’ll never have more than five or six at a given time, so the puzzles aren’t convoluted. Different from Mr Pumpkin, Cat doesn’t automatically use items in situations where they’d be of benefit. Instead, RainCity opts for a system where you press RT to highlight an item, and then drag it onto the screen. If it hits something of use, the item will automatically be used.
It’s a new take on point-and-clicking, and we’re not totally convinced. It’s too easy to ‘sweep’ the screen to trigger an interaction, as there aren’t many rooms or items. It makes puzzles occasionally trivial, when Mr Pumpkin at least required you to potter over to an area to see if you could interact with bits of it. As a counterpoint, we did appreciate not having to ‘do a LucasArts’ and manage a huge inventory alongside dozens of potential verbs. It means you move through RainCity at a fair old click.
So, you’re stepping through RainCity, moving from the hotel to a submerged courtyard, a tower block and then a factory, as your sister’s trail gets stronger. Minigames and puzzles pop up every ten minutes or so, and they have a tendency to invite more friction than the average Mr Pumpkin puzzle – or any other graphic adventure, in fact. A minecart puzzle has you slowly moving backwards and forwards between multiple screens, which is never complicated, just tedious. A ‘Lost Woods’-style Legend of Zelda puzzle feels worn and dusty, and we’re getting tired of them now.
It feels like Cotton Game have decided to be more ambitious with their puzzling in this outing, asking you to solve things across multiple screens, rather than engage with the pocket, Layton-like puzzles from their previous adventures. But by doing so, it clashes against the slow pace of the main character, and they tend to get more drawn out then we personally liked.
There are only three examples of these drawn-out puzzles or minigames in RainCity, so it’s not critical. In fact, RainCity isn’t long at all. It’s sub-Mr Pumpkin, and one of the shortest point-and-clicks that we’ve played. We clocked in at roughly two hours, so keep that in mind when it comes to assessing whether the £4.99 is worth it.
By RainCity’s end, we felt satisfied but not enlightened. It’s a journey with barely a kink in it (a slight twist occurs halfway through), when kinks would have been welcome. It plays out exactly as you’d expect. When the art is often magical, the plot could have given it more to work with.
RainCity is a short, delicate adventure, like a point-and-click you picked up at a craft fair. Everything is beautifully authored and painstakingly cared for. It doesn’t have anything to say, nor does it make you feel much, and there’s nothing new within. But it’s charming and worth £4.99. Dedicate two hours, and let RainCity wash over you.
You can buy RainCity from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S